Monday, August 30, 2010

Making Promises

Waffles are good for Breakfast, but not for Promises

Garrison Keillor, in Leaving Home, wrote about one of his characters in Lake Wobegon, that he is never willing to make plans. The guy just cannot make a commitment, and he says things like: I’m not saying we can, but if the weather holds, and nothing goes wrong, and nothing more pressing comes up, maybe we can go, but I can’t promise anything, so don’t get your hopes up. His children wanted to kill him because they couldn't make any plans with him, even when they were grown.

Talk like this makes everyone around us unsettled and uncertain. It says no one can rely on us for anything.

I know why we do it. We don’t want to say no, but we’re scared to say yes, so we waffle. We need to do better.

“I’ll be there if I can make it,” means I won’t be there.

“I’ll try,” means I’ll fail.

“I’ll do my best,” means I won’t do my best.

When I think about Keillor’s character, it gives me a different perspective on Jesus words, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’”(Matthew 5:37). I also think about how he told a church that he wished they would be hot or cold rather than lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). He means for us to state ourselves clearly, make definite commitments, and keep them.

It’s one thing to count the cost. We need to make wise commitments. But there are commitments that we should make. At some point, we need to state clearly what we are going to do, and then do it, even if it costs more than we thought it would.

"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? He who keeps his oath even when it hurts." (Ps. 15:1, 4)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Am I Closer to God?

Lately, the United Methodist Church has been challenging us with the question: “Are you closer to God this year than last year? How do you know?”

It can be frustrating to try to answer this question because sometimes we are making our greatest strides toward God when we feel farthest away. On the other hand, we can feel like we’re doing well when in fact we haven’t grown at all.

But perhaps there are some things we can look at to measure if we’re moving forward. Here’s a list of questions to help me gauge myself:

How often did I worship with the Lord’s people last year?

How regularly am I praying?

What am I praying about?

How often do I ask, “What does God want?” How often has that question changed my actions?

How much money did I give to the Lord’s work? More significantly, how much of a percentage of my income did I give?

How many acts of service did I perform? How many hours did that amount to?

Can the people closest to me (family and work) tell a difference in me?

How often do I go out of my way to speak kindly and encouragingly to others?

How often do I deliberately notice the needs of others?

Am I teaching the children about Jesus by instruction and example?

How gentle am I? How often did I answer softly when I wanted to yell?

How far along am I in forgiving those who hurt me?

How did I act when things went terribly wrong?

How did I act when I did not feel my best—hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick?

How many mistakes did I correct? How quickly did I take responsibility for them?

Did I tell the truth?

Did I keep my promises?

Answer honestly. Recognize your improvement without being boastful. Need to work on some things? Instead of wallowing in guilt, go to work.

Become the person you want to be.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Organized Religion

Anne Rice, the famous and wealthy novelist (she wrote about vampires), has left Christianity, sort of.

She was raised in Christianity, rejected it most of her life for atheism, then went back to it, and now has left it. Her problem is with organized religion. She doesn’t like some of the doctrinal stances, so she’s leaving. She’ll stay home to read and pray quietly, but she’ll no longer be a part of Christian fellowship.

More and more Americans are fed up with organized religion. They don’t like the corruption, the moral rigidness, and red tape.

I understand but consider the following thoughts:

That Bible that Anne Rice will read quietly? She has it because organized religion made it possible. If she uses a prayer book for meditation, she has it because people in organized religion labored so people like her could have one. It’s likely that she’s able to read, write, and make her living because of the education she got from organized religion. If she were to get sick and have to go to the hospital, there’s a good chance she’d go to one that exists because of organized religion.

Because of organized religion we have orphanages, foster homes, schools, soup kitchens, beds for the homeless, schools and colleges, relief agencies, and counseling services.

Organized religion is not a faceless entity. It’s a group of exhausted people. They’re not getting rich either. We hear and read about a few religious leaders who scam the public, but by and large most employees of these service agencies eke out a living at a fraction of the salary their education warrants. They work long hours that tax their health and strain their family relationships.

They would tell you that we need MORE organized religion, not less.

Anne Rice can sit in her nice home and read her Bible in quiet self-righteousness. Many Americans are choosing to do the same.

Shame on them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nothing But the Best

Anne Lamott, wrote about writing in Bird by Bird, “you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more. This is a radical proposition that runs so contrary to human nature, or at least to my nature, that I personally keep trying to find loopholes in it. But it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative, wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence.”

This is true with all the things that are important to you: work, family, and volunteer acts. If we agree to do something, we need to give our full effort to it.

Good enough is not good enough, especially when we think in terms of what we give to God.

One of the biggest reasons that churches decline is that while a handful of people work very hard, the rest of its members offer half efforts, if that much. Their time, efforts, and financial gifts are the gnawed over leftovers.

Since the days of the Old Testament, God has made it very clear that He wants us to give our very best—the first fruits of our lives. He is displeased with anything less. “‘When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?’ says the LORD.” (Malachi 1:13)

I’m not trying to make us all neurotic perfectionists here. But I think it’s reasonable to ask for our best, however much that may be at the time.

God is clear that if we bring him our best, that He will bless us in return. That’s a pretty good deal because no one can outgive God.

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10).